Homelessness in the World’s Largest City Just Hit a Record Low

Homelessness in the World’s Largest City Just Hit a Record Low


Why is there a massive discrepancy in rates of homelessness between New York City and Tokyo, the two most populated cities in the world? Could it be that Japan has a far more robust social safety net for its citizens?

The number of homeless residents in New York City, the largest city in the United States, reached a record high this month at more than 56,000 people. Halfway around the world, another metropolis recently hit a homeless record of its own: just 1,697 people are currently homeless in Tokyo, also its country’s largest city and the most populated city in the world, a record low since surveys began in 2002.



What’s even more surprising than the discrepancy in homeless populations between the two cities is the fact that Tokyo, at 13.4 million people, is larger than New York City (8.4 million people) and Los Angeles (3.9 million people) combined. While the rate of homelessness in New York is currently 67 for every 10,000 people, in Tokyo there is just one homeless individual for every 10,000 city residents.

Why the massive discrepancy in rates of homelessness between two of the most populous cities in the world?

As with most socioeconomic phenomena, there are a number of contributing factors. First and foremost, income inequality is a massive and growing problem in the United States, while Japan has historically had one of the lowest rates of inequality among developed countries. One principal measure of income inequality is the GINI coefficient, a measure from 0.0 (perfect equality) to 1.0 (perfect inequality). Recent surveys in the two countries found a GINI coefficient in Japan of 0.32, while in the US that rate was 0.41. However, income inequality can’t be the only explanation for Japan’s success combatting homelessness, especially considering that the country’s inequality index has actually worsened over the past few decades.

Where Japan is really surpassing the United States, instead, is in the social safety net it offers its citizens.

It begins with the Japanese Constitution, which unlike the U.S. version guarantees its citizens “the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.” As such, the country has a far more robust safety net than the United States.

Tokyo itself has been taking extra steps to fight homelessness. For instance, Hiroki Motoda, a government official in the city, pointed to the city’s temporary housing provision and employment training in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. He also said that the homeless population in Tokyo has been decreasing as it got older because, “Older homeless people tend to have health issues, and so they apply for social welfare. They stop living on the streets.”

Finally, another contributing factor is that Japanese tend to have a stronger support system from their families than in the United States, where individualism is prized. Though it is a difficult to quantify, the tradition of Japanese families remaining tight knit and supportive of each member is undeniable.

Of course, Japan is not superior to the United States in every aspect of homelessness, nor it is a perfectly fair comparison. There is far more cultural and racial diversity in the United States than in Japan, for instance. While homeless people in the United States face some barriers to voting, like obtaining photo identification in states that require it, the barriers are significantly steeper in Japan, where shelters and temporary accommodations cannot be used as an official place of residence when registering to vote. However, this does not change the fact that on a given night, more than 600,000 people are homeless in the United States; in Japan, that number is just 7,500. …



Reports Condemn Solitary Confinement in New York City´s Jails…

2600cfbfad1f68fc7449328b128e1d15Reports Condemn Solitary Confinement in New York City’s Jails, As Officials Weigh Its Future

November 6, 2013  By

rikers wireTwo recent reports provide a scathing picture of the how solitary confinement is employed as a routine disciplinary measure on Rikers Island and in other city jails. The reports are particularly critical of the use of extreme isolation and deprivation on individuals with psychological disabilities, including mentally ill teenagers.

The two reports were prepared for the Board of Correction (BOC), which functions as the oversight agency for the New York City jail system, ensuring that all city correctional facilities comply with minimum regulations of care. In recent months, under pressure from local activists, the BOC has been reconsidering the liberal use of solitary confinement in the city’s jails, and conducting fact-finding on the subject.

The first of two reports commissioned by the BOC was released in September 2013. Dr. James Gilligan and Dr. Bandy Lee authored the report, addressing the use of solitary confinement in the city’s jails.  This past June, Dr. Gilligan and Dr. Lee were asked to assess whether the city’s jails were in compliance with the current Mental Health Minimum Standards set forth by the Board of Correction.

On Rikers Island, which houses more than 10,000 of the 13,000 women, men and children in the city’s jails, 1 in every 10 people is in isolated confinement at any time.  Many are placed there for nonviolent offenses at the discretion of corrections officers.  This distinguishes New York as a city with one of the highest rates of prison isolation in the country–about double the national average.

The report’s findings are a resounding criticism of the current use of punitive segregation, and point both to violations of the Mental Health Minimum Standards as well as to practices within the jail system that are harmful to those who suffer from mental illness. The report’s authors point to snapshot data in which the number of people with mental illness in solitary confinement is almost double the number of those with mental illness in the jail population generally. The authors conclude that mentally ill people in the jail system are being disproportionately placed in solitary confinement.

The report also claims that the nation’s prisons and jails have become “de facto mental hospitals,” pointing to the fact that roughly 95% of people with mental illness who are currently institutionalized are in correctional facilities, while only 5% are in mental hospitals.

The Mental Health Minimum Standards mandate that mental healthcare be provided in a setting that is conducive to care and treatment. The report contends that prolonged use of solitary confinement for mentally ill people violates these Standards, because it has been used punitively, to create a stressful environment and to remove social contact, rather than to provide therapeutic services.

Moreover, the report holds that the Standards should be amended to emphasize that those with mental illness should not be held in segregation.  As the report states, “The goal of mental health treatment (and also of correctional practice) should be to do everything possible to foster, enhance and encourage the inmates’ ability to…behave in constructive and non-violent ways after they have returned to the community from jail.”

The city responded to the report with a point-by-point rejection of its findings, claiming that the principal conclusions drawn by Drs. Gilligan and Lee were based on an erroneous legal interpretation of the Mental Health Minimum Standards and that the report’s conclusions and further recommendations were unsupported by sufficient evidence. This response was put forth by a multiple agencies, including the Office of the Mayor, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Drs. Gilligan and Lee responded in turn, claiming that a strictly legal interpretation ignored the changing conditions of the current prison system as well as a misunderstanding of human psychology and behavior.  In order to reach a true understanding of the harm caused by punitive segregation, the authors say, we need to take into account the psychological effects of isolation, as well as the recent influx of people with mental illness into our prisons and jails.

One week after Drs. Gilligan and Lee published their report, the BOC voted unanimously to begin rulemaking to limit the use of solitary confinement in New York City.

These events follow a meeting held in June, in which the Board of Correction voted against limiting solitary confinement in the city’s jails, rejecting a petition put forth by the grassroots group known as the Jails Action Committee (JAC). The petition, if it had been accepted, would have limited solitary confinement as a last resort punishment for violent behavior only, and banned it entirely for children, young adults, and those with mental and physical disabilities.

BOC member Dr. Robert Cohen, a Manhattan physician and expert on prison health and mental health care, vocally supported JAC’s petition. At this June meeting, he called the use of solitary “dangerous,” especially for people with mental illness and adolescents, who are confined in punitive segregation at particularly high rates.  “During the past three years,” he pointed out, ”the percentage of prisoners languishing in solitary confinement has increased dramatically, without benefit in terms of decreased violence or increased safety on Rikers Island,” either for corrections officers or the prisoners themselves.

Dr. Cohen’s statement rings especially true after the release of the most recent BOC report in October, one month after the first report was published. Providing new information about the suffering of mentally ill youth placed in solitary confinement, the report describes the experiences of three adolescent boys at Rikers Island, each held in punitive segregation for more than 200 days, each suffering from mental illness. Youth and adolescents are among the most vulnerable populations in New York’s jail system; the report makes clear, however, that segregating mentally ill youth as a form of punishment is both negligent and dangerous.  The city has yet to respond to this latest criticism of solitary confinement.

The consequences of time spent in solitary confinement are lengthy and harmful, Cohen and other experts say; they include negative effects on mental health, including severe depression, anxiety, hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and panic attacks. Furthermore, studies have shown that common patterns of depression, anxiety, anger, and suicidal thoughts often leave individuals more prone to unstable and violent behavior, which can in turn lead to higher rates of recidivism.

Thank You to:  http://solitarywatch.com/2013/11/06/reports-condemn-abuse-solitary-confinement-new-york-citys-jails-officials-weigh-future/

Appeals Court Blocks NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Ruling

Appeals Court Blocks NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Ruling

By Nicole Flatow

A federal appeals court halted implementation Thursday of the landmark ruling that invalidated parts of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program. After months of testimony from more than 100 witnesses in a class action challenge, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin held in August that the police department engaged in unconstitutional racial profiling, and ordered federal oversight.

The appeals court did not rule on the merits of the case, but said the ruling would remain on hold while it reviewed the appeal in the case. Significantly, the court also removed Scheindlin from the case, finding that she had violated ethics rules by suggesting to lawyers that this sort of lawsuit be filed, and speaking publicly to the media about the case.

Scheindlin authored an exhaustive opinion that found the NYPD effectively set quotas for stops and arrests, called black and Hispanic men “the right people” for the purpose of stops, that the NYPD disproportionately stopped young blacks and Latinos even when accounting for crime statistics, and that even the NYPD’s low success rate — 6 percent — is likely inflated by questionable arrests for marijuana.

Another judge will handle the case going forward, which will become more significant if the appeals court overturns the ruling and remands it to the district court for review.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the plaintiffs in this case, the appeals panel opted to remove Judge Scheindlin even though the City of New York did not request that they do so, nor raise “any claims of legal bias” by Scheindlin.

This article was published at NationofChange at: http://www.nationofchange.org/appeals-court-blocks-nypd-stop-and-frisk-ruling-1383490718. All rights are reserved.

“I spent more than five years of my sentence in “the box” for trivial violations.

Solitary confinement’s invisible scars

I spent more than five years of my sentence in ‘the box’, for trivial violations. It’s time we saw this casual abuse for what it is: torture

As kids, many of us imagine having superpowers. An avid comic book reader, I often imagined being invisible. I never thought I would actually experience it, but I did.

It wasn’t in a parallel universe – although it often felt that way – but right here in the Empire State, my home. While serving time in New York‘s prisons, I spent 2,054 days in solitary and other forms of isolated confinement, out of sight and invisible to other human beings – and eventually, even to myself.

After only a short time in solitary, I felt all of my senses begin to diminish. There was nothing to see but gray walls. In New York’s so-called special housing units, or SHUs, most cells have solid steel doors, and many do not have windows. You cannot even tape up pictures or photographs; they must be kept in an envelope. To fight the blankness, I counted bricks and measured the walls. I stared obsessively at the bolts on the door to my cell.

There was nothing to hear except empty, echoing voices from other parts of the prison. I was so lonely that I hallucinated words coming out of the wind. They sounded like whispers. Sometimes, I smelled the paint on the wall, but more often, I just smelled myself, revolted by my own scent.

There was no touch. My food was pushed through a slot. Doors were activated by buzzers, even the one that led to a literal cage directly outside of my cell for one hour per day of “recreation”.

Even time had no meaning in the SHU. The lights were kept on for 24 hours. I often found myself wondering if an event I was recollecting had happened that morning or days before. I talked to myself. I began to get scared that the guards would come in and kill me and leave me hanging in the cell. Who would know if something happened to me? Just as I was invisible, so was the space I inhabited.

The very essence of life, I came to learn during those seemingly endless days, is human contact, and the affirmation of existence that comes with it. Losing that contact, you lose your sense of identity. You become nothing.

Everyone knows that prison is supposed to take away your freedom. But solitary doesn’t just confine your body; it kills your soul.

Yet neither a judge nor a jury of my peers handed down this sentence to me. Each of the tormented 23 hours per day that I spent in a bathroom-sized room, without any contact with the outside world, was determined by prison staff.

Anyone lacking familiarity with our state prison system would probably guess I must have been a pretty scary, out-of-control prisoner. But I never committed one act of violence during my entire sentence. Instead, a series of “tickets”, or disciplinary write-ups for prison rule violations, were punished with a total of more than five years in “the box”.

In New York, guards give out tickets like penny candy. During my nine years in prison, I received an endless stream of tickets, each one more absurd than the last. When I tried to use artwork to stay sane, I was ticketed for having too many pencils. Another time, I had too many postage stamps.

One day, I ate an entire apple – including the core – because I was starving for lack of nutrition. I received a ticket for eating the core, since apple seeds contain arsenic, as spelled out in the prison handbook. The next time I received an apple, fearful of another ticket, I simply left it on the tray. I received a ticket for “refusing to eat”.

For the five years I spent in the box, I received insulin shots for my diabetes by extending my arm through the food slot in the cell’s door. (“Therapy” for prisoners with mental illness is often conducted this way, as well.) One day, the person who gave me the shot yanked roughly on my arm through the small opening and I instinctively pulled back. This earned me another ticket for “refusing medical attention”, adding additional time to my solitary sentence.

My case is far from unusual. A 2012 study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that five out of six of the 13,000 SHU sentences handed out each year are for nonviolent misbehavior, rather than violent acts. This brutal approach to discipline means that New York isolates its prisoners at rates well above the national average.

On any given day, some 4,300 men, women, and children are in isolated confinement in the state, many for months or years. Those with more serious prison offenses have been held in solitary for 20 years or more.

Using this form of punishment is particularly absurd for minor rule infractions. But in truth, no one should be subjected to the kind of extreme isolation that is practiced in New York’s prisons today. I have no doubt that what is going on in prisons all over our state is torture. Many national and international human rights groups – including UN special rapporteur on torture Juan E Méndez – concur. Yet it continues, unseen and largely ignored by the public.

The scars that isolated confinement leaves behind may be invisible, too, but they are no less painful or permanent than physical scars. Even now that I am out of prison, I suffer major psychological consequences from those years in isolation.

I know that I have irreparable memory damage. I can hardly sleep. I have a short temper. I do not like people to touch me. I cannot listen to music or watch television or sports. I am only beginning to recover my ability to talk on the phone. I no longer feel connected to people.

Even though I am a free man now, I often feel as though I remain invisible, going through the motions of life. Feeling tormented by a punishment that has ended is a strange and unnerving anguish. But there are thousands like me, and until New Yorkers choose to bear witness to the soul-destroying torture taking place in their own backyards, our suffering, too, will remain invisible.



www.childreninshadow.wordpress.com  or www.childreninprison.wordpress.com Thank You!

Shopping While Black Can Lead to Arrest in New York City

Shopping While Black Can Lead to Arrest in New York  City

Shopping While Black Can Lead to Arrest in New York City

Add “buying pricey stuff” to the list of things New York City cops punish  blacks for doing.

In two separate incidents, black Barneys shoppers were stopped by police and  grilled about the source of the money they spent at the expensive store. The  cops seemed to believe that black people couldn’t afford to shop at Barneys and  must have committed fraud to do so.

The first victim was Kayla Phillips, a 21-year-old who put her  tax refund to use at the end of February to buy a $2,500 orange suede purse from  Barneys. “I had been looking for that purse in that color for a long time, and  it was always out of stock,” she said. When she found it she snapped it up,  paying with a debit card.

Four plainclothes cops (four?!!) stalked her to a subway station where they  publicly humiliated her, interrogating her for 20 minutes. “Two of them  attacked me and pushed me against a wall, and the other two appeared in front of  me, blocking the turnstile,” Phillips, who was pregnant at the time, remembers.  She said they were “very rough.”

Next up was Trayon Christian, who bought a $349  Ferragamo belt he had long coveted. Christian, 19, is an engineering student  with a job. When he got his paycheck at the end of last April he went to buy the  reversible, silver-buckled belt. He used his own debit card, and, when the  Barneys clerk asked him to show ID, he did.

He hadn’t gotten far from the store — about a block — when two undercover New  York City police detectives stopped him and accused him of using a fake debit  card. Christian told The New York Daily News that  the “detectives were asking me, ‘How could you afford a belt like this?  Where did you get this money from?’”

Christian says the cops handcuffed him, took him to a police station, and  left him in a holding cell for two hours. When they finally let him go, they  apologized.

Disgusted with Barneys, Christian returned his belt. “I’m not shopping there  again,” he said. “It’s racist.” The police who arrested him said that Barneys  had alerted them about Christian’s purchase. A store security guard told  Phillips’ mother that undercover cops routinely patrol inside the store to watch  for fraudulent purchases, which happen there about once a week. Barneys denies  involvement in the harassment of its black customers.

Christian and Phillips are both suing the city and Barneys.

The $349 belt and the $2,500 purse — and indeed anything Barney sells — stand  for something. In our materialistic culture, owning objects is seen as proof of  merit, whether by talent, intelligence, diligence or good looks. Barneys quotes  Sarah Jessica Parker on its website: “If you’re a nice person and you  work hard, you get to go shopping at Barneys. It’s the decadent reward.”

Punishing shoppers for buying things and doubting their ability to afford the  items is a way of saying those people don’t deserve their purchases.

By stopping, harassing and arresting black people who spend money, the city  is policing both racial divides and social class distinctions. An exclusive  designer purse is a status symbol that tells the world, “I have money!” It seems  that, when the person carrying the bag is black, New York’s police department  either doesn’t believe that message, or wishes it weren’t true. Staking out  Barneys is a way to limit conspicuous consumption by blacks and reinforce the  idea that they haven’t earned the right to own expensive things.

These cops have the potential to make the upcoming holiday shopping frenzy  even more unpleasant than usual.

Please sign our petition urging the NYPD to stop the unacceptable  practice of racial profiling.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/shopping-while-black-can-lead-to-arrest-in-new-york-city.html#ixzz2iqPXCcJ9

Pushed Out by Penthouses: The Gentrification of Downtown Brooklyn

English: Graffiti created by Yoshitomo Nara at...
English: Graffiti created by Yoshitomo Nara at Niagara Bar, 112 Ave. A, New York, NY, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Creative Time Reports

Pushed Out by Penthouses: The Gentrification of Downtown Brooklyn

October 21, 2013

This episode of Forms of Life, with Kelly Anderson, is part of Creative Time Reports’  Summit Series, which features articles related to the theme of the 2013 Creative Time Summit: Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century City (which can be viewed via Livestream on October 25

Please, watch & hear this: http://creativetimereports.org/2013/10/21/my-brooklyn-with-kelly-anderson/?

Police Throw Man in Jail After Mistaking Jolly Ranchers for Crystal Meth

An assortment of Jolly Rancher candies
An assortment of Jolly Rancher candies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Police Throw Man in Jail After Mistaking Jolly Ranchers for Crystal Meth

Gawker.com wrote his Name: Love Olatunjiojo

Drug War inspired police work at its best.

October 21, 2013  |

For any New Yorker that still needs convincing of how essential stop-and-frisk tactics are to keeping them safe, some intrepid NYPD police work has taken hard candies off the street.

According to a lawsuit brought against the NYPD by Love Olatunjiojo, police arrested and held the 25-year-old man for 24 hours after mistaking Jolly Ranchers for crystal meth, reports the New York Daily News. Olatunjiojo and a friend had just made the purchase — at the It’Sugar candy emporium in Brooklyn — when police approached and searched the two men. According to the complaint, obtained by the  Smoking Gun, “Finding only candy, including the Jolly Rancher candy mentioned, the officers repeatedly searched Plaintiff and told him “it was only a matter of time before they found something.'”…

Read whole article here, please:


Love Olatunjiojo says he and two friends had just purchased the sweets at the Coney Island candy megastore It’Sugar and were walking away when they were stopped by Officer… watch Gawker.com

Puerto Rican Political Prisoner Norberto Gonzales Claudio Denied Medical Attention!




P R E S S   R E L E A S E

For immediate distribution


The Committee to Support Avelino and Norberto González Claudio, The Caribbean and Latin American Coordinating Committee of Puerto Rico, The Human Rights Committee of Puerto Rico, The Resistance Collective, The Socialist Front, The New School, The Movement for Socialism, The National Hostosiano Independence Movment, The Socialist Movement of Workers, The Puerto Rican Independence Party of Puerto Rico,  The Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, and The Revolutionary Party of Puerto Rican Workers-Macheteros, and The ProLibertad Freedom Campaign in New York City announce that during the opening of the Festival for Claridad Newspaper in Puerto Rico, they will launch a campaign to denounce the inhuman treatment that political prisoner Norberto González Claudio is currently receiving and to demand that he receive urgently needed medical attention.  The aforementioned organizations will request that the House and Senate of Puerto Rico approve the concurrent Resolution 500, that has been presented by Senator María de Lourdes Santiago in the legislature.

Norberto González Claudio was arrested May 10, 2011, for an expropriation that was carried out by the Macheteros (Machete Wielders) in 1983 in Harford, Connecticut, as part of the struggle for the Independence of Puerto Rico.  At the time of his arrest Norberto was in an excellent state of health and was wearing an orthopedic show.  In the course of his detention it was “discovered” that Norberto had a lesion in his leg that a biopsy established was cancerous.

His orthopedic shoe was taken away, they refused to provide him with one and they have prevented his family from providing him with another one.  The little medical attention to treat the cancerous lesion has been limited and deficient and it has also been revealed that he has not received any treatment for yet another lesion that is potentially cancerous.

At present, Norberto is in the process of being transferred to an institution where he will complete his sentence.  It has been the custom of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to submit it’s Puerto Rican political prisoners to lengthy and discriminatory processes of transfer during which they are sent from prison to prison for long periods of time.

In this process they are kept incommunicado from their families, their lawyers and they are denied the most minimum medical attention and the medications that they have been prescribed.  We recall the treatment that Avelino González Claudio, Norbertos’brother and comrade in struggle, who was also arrested in excellent health and was released suffering from Parkinsons Disease, was denied medications, suffering from a possible tumor in his back — that they refused to treat.

The absence of medical evaluation and treatment for cancerous lesions and the denial of an orthopedic shoe, clearly place the life of Norberto González Claudio in danger.

We hereby denounce these flagrant violations of the human rights of this patriot and announce the commencement of a petition campaign to bring a halt to this abuse.


Elda Santiago, Wife of Norberto González Claudio,  (787) 479-0730

Benjamin Ramos, ProLibertad NYC, 718-601-4751



Free All Political Prisoners! nycjericho@gmail.comwww.jerichony.org

Solitary Struggle in California Prisons: The Guardian wrote about …

Big Sur, California
Big Sur, California (Photo credit: the_tahoe_guy)

Inside story: the US prison system


The solitary struggle in California prisons

Until recent protests, California locked ‘validated’ gang members in concrete boxes for years on end. So what’s changed?

CDCR has contested the description of the SHUs’ 8x10ft cell as ‘solitary confinement‘. Photograph: Creative Commons photo to see with the o-side!

For the past three decades or so, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has attempted to suppress gang violence in its prisons by segregating anyone thought be have gang affiliations in their notorious secure housing units (SHUs) – and leaving them there for years or even decades. Last summer, two state-wide hunger strikes protesting SHU conditions shed an uncomfortable spotlight on these policies and the CDCR was obliged to rethink its approach.

Recently, it issued an outline of its revised strategy (pdf), including details of the much-anticipated step-down program. While the new strategy has been welcomed by stakeholders in an “anything is better than nothing” kind of way, it falls far short of addressing the grievances that forced it into being.

The four-year step-down program (SDP), will at least provide SHU inmates with a mechanism to earn their way back to the general prison population. That’s reasonably good news for new SHU inmates, who, until now, would have had to resign themselves to spending a minimum of six years in an 8x10ft concrete box, with no window and no human contact, before their case even came up for review. But for those who have been in one for years or decades already, the SDP appears to offer little more than a guarantee of at least three and a half more years of almost total isolation.

In year one, for instance, the only change SHU inmates can expect is to partake in “in-cell studies designed to enhance life skills”. Year two is more of the same, with a few carrots thrown in, namely a deck of playing cards, one phone call per year and the ability to spend an additional $11 per month (of their own money) in the canteen. Year three allows for two phone calls per year, and a few other random perks that include “a plastic tumbler, a plastic bowl, a pair of seasonal tennis shoes, a combination of 10 books, newspapers or magazines, and a domino game”. Year four adds a chess set to the mix. ….


….  Most people have little sympathy for these men: they are criminals, after all, who at one point in their lives mistreated and abused other citizens. But when the state that is charged with correcting these criminals goes on to abuse and mistreat them, in turn – and I’d say mistreatment and abuse are gentle terms for locking a person in a concrete box for 10-20 years – they lose the moral high ground.

With its new gang management strategy, the CDCR has taken a step towards regaining some of that terrain, but right now, it looks like there’s still a steep climb ahead.

Interested parties can write to:

Sadhbh Walshe
PO Box 1466
New York, NY 10150

Or send an email to: sadhbh@ymail.com

“Suffering in Solitary” in: Solitary Watch

Rikers Island, off Queens New York
Rikers Island, off Queens New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Article in Fortune News: “Suffering in Solitary”


February 12, 2013  By

Solitary VortexThe title of this post is the title of an article by us that appears in the current edition of Fortune News, the publication of the Fortune Society, a remarkable group based in the New York City. The organization describes itself as follows: “The Fortune Society’s mission is to support successful reentry from prison and promote alternatives to incarceration, thus strengthening the fabric of our communities. We do this by: Believing in the power of individuals to change; building lives through service programs shaped by the needs and experience of our clients; and changing lives through education and advocacy to promote the creation of a fair, humane and truly rehabilitative correctional system.”

Our piece appears below, but be sure to check out Fortune News for more on solitary confinement and mental health, including a powerful piece by Wilbert Rideau about his time spent in solitary on Louisiana’s death row.

A 2003 report from Human Rights Watch found that, based on available data from states throughout the country, one-third to one-half of prisoners held in “secure housing units” (SHUs), and “special management units” (SMUs) suffered from mental illness. Since the total population of inmates in solitary confinement is thought to number 75,000 or more, tens of thousands of prisoners with mental illness may be in isolation on any given day.

The Human Rights Watch report concluded that “persons with mental illness often have difficulty complying with strict prison rules, particularly when there is scant assistance to help them manage their disorders….eventually accumulating substantial histories of disciplinary infractions; they land for prolonged periods in disciplinary or administrative segregation.” In other words, they are placed in solitary precisely because they display the symptoms of untreated mental illness. Given that isolation has been shown to cause severe psychological trauma in prisoners without underlying psychiatric conditions, it would be difficult to imagine a more damaging place to incarcerate the mentally ill.

At the all-solitary Colorado State Penitentiary, Troy Anderson has spent the last 10 years in isolation, never seeing the sun or the surrounding mountains. Anderson has been diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, anti-social personality disorder, cognitive disorders, a seizure disorder and poly-substance dependence, and he has attempted suicide many times, starting at the age of 10. His mental health treatment in prison has consisted largely of intermittent and inappropriate medications and scant therapy, most of it conducted through a slot in his solid steel cell door. By Colorado’s own estimate, 37 per cent of the prisoners in its isolation units are mentally ill.

In 2006, 21-year-old Timothy Souders died of heat exhaustion and dehydration at a Jackson, MI, prison during an August heat wave. For the four days prior to his death, Souders had been shackled to a cement slab in solitary confinement because he had been acting up. That entire period was captured on surveillance videotapes, which according to news reports clearly showed his mental and physical deterioration. His suffering may have been further exacerbated by antipsychotic drugs, which raise the body temperature and cause dehydration.

Terry Kupers, a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkley and a nationally recognized expert on the psychological effects of solitary confinement, testified in a Wisconsin case “confinement of prisoners suffering from serious mental illnesses, or who are prone to serious mental illness or suicide, is an extreme hazard to their mental health and well-being.” A California judge put it somewhat differently: In a case concerning Pelican Bay State Prison, he said that placing prisoners with mental illness in solitary confinement was “the mental equivalent of putting an asthmatic in a place with little air.”

Research indicates that even for prisoners without underlying mental illness, long-term solitary confinement can alter neural and therefore psychological states. One study found that those in solitary developed psychopathologies at higher rates than those in the general population (28 percent vs. 15 percent). Wilbert Rideau, a renowned prison journalist (and now a free man), describes in his recent memoir In the Place of Justice the “bone-cold loneliness” of life in solitary confinement on Angola’s death row–“removed from family or anything resembling a friend, and just being there, with no purpose or meaning to my life, cramped in a cage smaller than an American bathroom. Deprivation of both physical exercise and meaningful social interaction were so severe…that some men went mad while others feigned lunacy in order to get transferred to the hospital for the criminally insane.”

In recent years, lawsuits and grassroots movements in Illinois, Maine, New York, and elsewhere have spurred policies or legislation limiting the use of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness. In New York, for example, such inmates are supposed to be moved to special residential mental health units, or at least spend several hours a day outside of their isolation cells receiving treatment. These changes represent an important step toward more humane treatment of mentally ill prisoners. Yet even in these states, the diagnosis process is highly fallible, and the need for alternatives to solitary far outstrips the available resources. Until a major shift in thinking and policymaking takes place, there will continue to be thousands with mental illness suffering in solitary.